Religion is a complex topic in both discussion and study. Ideally, one could say that an outside view of religion gives a person the advantage of an objective perspective in a particular sect’s beliefs and traditions. However, as with all things, it impossible to have a “fully objective” view of religion; the effects of religion are not limited to those who actively participate in beliefs and traditions. Rather, religion is a phenomenon that can and has heavily influence society and its participants. An academic study of religion will not be without a slant in perspective; furthermore, treating the study of religion solely as vague textbook knowledge is to risk not being able to understand a belief system as a factor in the real world, rather than just as something to read about. It should also be said that being an active participant (or having an inside view) of a belief system does not mean that one is unable to develop an academic viewpoint of their religion while maintaining their own faith. Everyone has their own perspective and opinions. However, the study of religion should not necessarily be primarily for backing up one’s opinions, whether they be positive or negative; the end goal should be to achieve a better understanding.
The study of religion is something that will definitely require an open mind. Many times people will approach evidence and “pick and choose” that which supports their opinions; they will also ignore new evidence that comes to light if it goes against their convictions. Their understanding of religion, therefore, becomes skewed and closeminded. However, a person should not just accept evidence and leave it at that; a person should study them closely, and even when one becomes comfortable with an explanation, they should never stop asking fruitful questions. That being said, the study of religion will also require one to acknowledge their bias and step over their comfort zone; this means to examine the source of our pre-judgment. It is also helpful to start analyzing the elements and relationships that make up a belief system, as it is also helpful to try to get into the mindset of an insider from the religion one is studying. In short, to better understand a belief system and its traditions, an involved mind is needed. Actively trying to better understand what you are studying is key to acknowledge how it factors into the real world; to develop a “textbook only” sense of knowledge may be enough to pass a class, but to actively participate is to open one’s self up to different perspectives and opinions.
It should be said that to me, perspective is important. Many times, people present perfect objectivity as the ideal way to look at things, especially religion. However, again, it is completely impossible for a person to be completely objective; therefore, it is not objectivity that should be desired, but an understanding of different points of view. Once you can acknowledge that there are ways of thinking that differ from your own, you’re setting yourself on track to expanding your mind and making room for growth. This isn’t to say that a person can’t have their own opinions of course; this is to say that a person shouldn’t let their opinions bar an opportunity to better understand the world.